Friday, January 29, 2016

A Great Teacher Brings Acting Classes to Neighborhood Kids

Teacher Donald Amerson and kids from the Neighborhood Conservatory.
Kids working together in class.
Donald Amerson.
It’s afterschool at an elementary school in Costa Mesa. Donald Amerson walks with purpose into the modular building that houses a series of classrooms. Roughly 20 pairs of eyes follow him, lit up with delight. Amerson has arrived to teach an acting class at one of Orange County’s Title One schools, where arts are not part of the curriculum, and a majority of the children are from low-income households. This is South Coast Repertory’s Neighborhood Conservatory in action.

The same professionally trained instructors who teach in SCR's tuition-supported Theatre Conservatory go into schools and other neighborhood locations where young people—who often are initially shy, maybe withdrawn or stand-offish—participate in a series of exercises that utilize drama, acting, mime and improvisation. These free classes are carefully designed to build self-confidence, teamwork and communication skills, and the results are often transformative.

SCR Theatre Conservatory Director Hisa Takakuwa says Amerson’s nurturing approach to teaching has a big impact on young people.

“He treats the students with incredible compassion and respect, and his enthusiasm for the craft is infectious,” Takakuwa says. “That shows in class, where he explores creatively with his students, making use of puppetry, mask work, music and all theatrical forms of storytelling.”

Amerson also fits comfortably into SCR’s Theatre Conservatory acting program, which stresses “process” over “product.” This means sharing and exploring the craft (process) of acting rather that emphasizing the creation or performance (product) of plays, and it’s at the heart of Takakuwa’s teaching philosophy.

“While these skills can set a strong foundation for becoming a professional artist, they are invaluable life skills, and Donald has a natural affinity for this approach,” she says.

Amerson also is an actor and a director and has worked in shows from Michigan to New York to California, including The Production Club (New York City) and Plaza De La Raza (Los Angeles). He has been an acting coach and teaching artist with Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles and a teaching artist at theatres including Young Actors Guild (Ann Arbor, Mich.) and Center Theatre Group (Los Angeles). He earned an MFA in drama from Eastern Michigan State University, where he also was an adjunct professor.

If fun was a professional attribute, he’d probably have that in his resume, as well.

Learn more about the Neighborhood Conservatory.

To make a gift to support this neighborhood work, contact Susan C. Reeder, Director of Development, at or (714) 708-5518.

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